live in a time and in a society that must be one of the most
heavily and most successfully propagandized in history. We are
under an avalanche of pressure to disavow our own experience
and needs (and our communities' experience and needs) and substitute
the proscribed attitudes churned out by the centre of money,
power and mass communications.
instance, these days many people, maybe even most people, really
believe that the country is broke. We have been told that so
often. We can't afford medicare, or unemployment insurance,
or battered women's shelters because we're broke. It's propaganda,
a posture that has nothing to do with our own experience. Just
look around. Walk down Bloor Street in Toronto, 4th Avenue in
Vancouver, walk through Kensington in Calgary, then tell me
the country is broke! We are rich as Croesus. As a society,
we can afford VCRs, handi-cams, CD players, cable TV, the Blue
Jays, The Phantom of the Opera - but we can't afford medicare?
In Ontario they reduce the income of welfare mothers to "fight
the deficit," and then give a tax break to people who are better
off to "stimulate the economy." It takes a powerful load of
propaganda to make people swallow something so obviously contradictory,
so openly self-serving. But the propaganda is incredibly pervasive.
It is damn hard not to be taken in, hard to trust your own experience
and not substitute the "wisdom" of the rich, articulate guys
in suits who dominate TV, radio and the press. I mean, Geoffrey
Simpson looks knowledgeable, he sounds knowledgeable and he
is saying the same thing they are all saying... if he thinks
the emperor's new clothes are terrific, they must be.
despite the avalanche of propaganda, we do have our own real
interests and histories, and our communities have their real
interests and histories. Eventually, stretched far enough, the
veil of propaganda starts to tear, and those real interests,
that real experience, comes back into focus. Inherent in the
domination of public discourse by the rich and powerful is its
antithesis, because in many ways we can feel that our own community
values are just not there. I think the next few years are going
to see a very exciting fight over the soul of the country. I
am not a Pollyanna about this. The bad guys are winning. If
they get their way, and they very well might, they could do
such damage to the fabric of the country, the fabric of our
communities, they could so Americanize us, that it will take
generations to recover.
same forces are at play when it comes to music. The entertainment
industry juggernaut has certainly marginalized folk music, just
as the political juggernaut has marginalized community itself
- the source of folk music. Being a folksinger was never an
easy job, but now it is harder than ever. The cultural organizations
that have played an important part keeping non-commercial culture
enterprises afloat - including folk singers - are being cut
to the bone. Meanwhile the commercial entertainment alternatives,
from watching videos at home to spending $100 to see Showboat,
have never been more pervasive, more hyped. I seriously doubt
whether Stringband could have kept going, had those days been
yet, and yet ... people like you and me, people who like the
music, who like the heart it has, feel the absence. And given
the opportunity, we will express our own community interest.
That is what happened with GABRIOLA V0R1X0.
I decided to record again, after being away from the studio
for something like 15 years, I wasn't very confident. Would
an album by an old folksinger get any play? Would there be venues
where I could perform? Would I be able to sell more than 200
copies to die-hard old Stringband fans? To be confident would
have been to be foolish. So I decided to fundraise. I set out
to raise $5000. When the dust had settled, I raised $25,000!
It was the single most rewarding experience of my working life.
It was my Academy Award. Of course it was flattering; it is
wonderful to feel that appreciated.
I think something else was going on: I think people saw a chance
to fight back against the system, against the music industry,
to express solidarity with their own community's music. And
as a result of their intervention, I was able to once again
put out songs expressing the values we share. I was able to
express my (and our) equivocal thoughts about marriage and parenting
in these times. I was able to make a song out of our anger and
hurt at the destruction of the wilderness - and our determination
to stop it. And those expressions go back into the community,
and strengthen it against the rain of propaganda. That's what
I do. That's what folk songs have always done.
think now, as I get older, it is my fate to remain fairly obscure,
to be a marginal performer who has little impact on mainstream
culture. What I do won't be the lead story in the entertainment
section of The Globe, it won't get rotation on MuchMusic. I
won't play the Glenn Gould Theatre or do a guest spot with Rita
McNeill. Too bad. But I know how much effect my work has on
people in my community, who take the energy of my songs and
channel it into their work, and their work encourages someone
else. That's the legacy of what I do, and that feels pretty
good to me.